My grandmother says she is going blind, but she picked up a paper clip on the floor. Can you help me understand her vision?

We often hear questions like this one. Age-related macular degeneration is better understood today than years ago. Often a central area of vision is blurred and the peripheral vision remains intact. Depending on the quality of that peripheral vision, your grandmother might in fact see clearly if she catches sight of a paperclip out of her side vision. Plus, a paper clip is shiny, and if the floor is dark, the contrast would help her see it.

The doctor says I am legally blind. What does that mean?

The standard measures for legal blindness are a drop of visual acuity, as measured on the Schnellen Eye Chart, to 20/200. If you just see the E, that is a visual acuity of 20/400 in that eye. The other measure of legal blindness is a drop in visual field to 30%. You can see that a person that is legally blind still can have significant vision remaining. So for people in these circumstances, who are legally blind, are often served well by gathering together the tools that will help them use their remaining vision to its full potential and thereby maintain as much of their life and activities as they can. Helping with this challenge is the calling and the passion of our business; this is our goal for every person seeks our help.

The doctor says I have macular degeneration and there’s nothing he can do. Does this mean I will go blind?

I have not yet met a person who went totally blind from Macular Degeneration. Since it is affecting the center of your retina and your central vision you will find you have normal peripheral vision. Now, it can sometimes affect a great deal of your central vision to where the clear peripheral vision becomes narrower, but if you prepare yourself and get used to using devices and technology you will most likely continue to function independently. Maintaining your independence will help you to keep a good attitude throughout your life. If you think about it there are lots of worse ailments that afflict us as we get older. Things that are not as easy to adapt to.

What do you suggest I do to see faces better? People think I am unfriendly.

Finding a low vision tool to help you see faces is difficult, unless you are stationary, for example at a meeting or with a group or people watching at a concert in the park. The Max TV glasses might help you focus on faces, and in fact they are uniquely successful in those settings for many people.

Regarding how others perceive you, there are a few things we can suggest. Patty lived in a small town in the mountains when she first began losing vision. People did ask Ken questions about how she was feeling because they would see her in the store and she seemed unfriendly and even unhappy. Well, she stopped looking at people because she had to stare at them too long to figure out if she even knew them, so she did seem unfriendly. She was probably frowning, too, trying to discern the signs on the aisles and the products on the shelves. The best antidote to the “unfriendly” charge is to make others aware that you cannot see well. There are a million ways to do this, including simply talking about it to others and coaching them to call their name when they say hello. One of the sweetest things we’ve seen is a button someone made up that said, “I may look good but I don’t see well.” What a great conversation opener at the check-out stand, that is, as long as you trust the cashier!

I can’t see the TV without sitting right in front of it. What would you suggest?

First, sitting right in front of the TV won’t hurt you. The easiest solution to the screen becoming blurry is to move in closer. Rearranging furniture is well worth the effort. After all, our furniture should suit our lives, not the other way around. Another improvement can be made by getting a new, high definition television. They have come way down in price.We also sell devices to watch TV at our store. We also carry specialized eye wear, the MaxTV glasses. They are comfortable, light, and popular with our customers. The most satisfying viewing distance with those glasses is between 4′ and 12′ from the screen.

The eye doctor said there was nothing else she could do for me. How could this be?

This is a moment in the doctor and patient communication that no doctor wants. Unfortunately, the available treatments for Macular Degeneration and some of the other diseases that cause our eyes to weaken have not advanced to the point of curing these conditions. However, for many people, new therapies have helped delay the progression or even stopped worsening symptoms in their tracks. More and more physicians are aware of low vision devices and the life changing daily living solutions that magnification technology offers. While many doctors or their staff aides are familiar with these choices, many more are not. Always understand that your medical doctor, your Ophthalmologist, has focused all of his training on the physiological systems and pathologies of the eyes.

My glasses don’t help me anymore, so why wear them?

Ask the optometrist, your O.D., whether your distance correction is significant. If it is, perhaps help from your distance correction is better than nothing. Simplifying your glasses with a single vision distance correction might be the perfect answer. It is certainly easier to use magnifiers and CCTVs if you have simplified, single vision glasses rather than multiple focal distance glasses.

Before you give up completely on glasses, however, look into light controlling filters for low vision. They can help by reducing glare, enhancing contrast, and protecting your remaining vision from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. Contact us if you would like more information.

What is a CCTV?

CCTV is just one name for a reading machine. The term actually means “closed circuit television ” which, in lay terms, means a real time camera. There is a great deal of engineering to make these electronic magnifiers so helpful to people with impaired vision, but the basic camera technology is not unlike the security cameras you see in stores. CCTV readers have been around for more than 45 years. Even in the last ten years, however, changes have made profound improvements in the quality and adjustability of the magnified image, as well as the size and ergonomics of the machines themselves. The controls have also gotten more straightforward and intuitive in recent models.

My CCTV won’t come on when I turn it on. There are no lights at all and no image on the monitor.

Check all the places where cords connect. This is a common call we receive. Nine times out of ten, one of the connections has jiggled loose from dusting, vacuuming, or bumping the machine ever so slightly, even in little bits over time. So follow the cords where they connect to the machine, to the wall, and especially to the power supply. Most CCTVs have a power supply that converts the current. So there will be a cord from the machine to that black box, and then a cord to the power outlet on the wall from the box. If you have your machine on a surge protector (and you should), make sure its switch is turned on.

I get dizzy when trying to read on my CCTV. What am I doing wrong?

Chances are that you are looking up at your CCTV monitor. It is extremely important for multiple reasons that the table on which your CCTV is placed is not too high. Sometimes chairs can be raised. Ideally, we would want your table height to be just above your thighs, so you can still get your legs under the CCTV table. Drawers in the way only add unnecessary height to the table. Your eyes should fall at least to the mid-point on the screen– the higher the better.

Do I need to turn my CCTV off when I am not using it, or can I leave it on all day?

We like to tell people about how Patty uses her CCTV. She has three of them, one in the office and two at home. One of her two CCTVs at home is dedicated to her artwork and lives in her studio room. There she makes jewelry under a small auto focus camera that sees middle distance as well as very close. Her goal is access to reading whenever she desires it. She does not worry about turning off her CCTVs during the day. If she is going from task to task she just leaves the machines on so she can go back to what she was doing on that device.

I am looking up at my CCTV monitor and my neck hurts. What should I do?

If you are looking up because you are looking through the bottom pat of your bi-focal glasses (which the optician sets for close vision), you should stop this practice at once. You should be looking at the CCTV through your distance correction, the top part of bi focal glasses (set by the optician for far distance). Now, the ideal correction is for you to use a Plus-2, clip-on adapter over your distance correction. We sell them for $25 and call them CCTV clip-on glasses. That would bring you the optimal vision for the distance of the monitor. There is further information on this site regarding prescription eye wear.

Back to your neck, you might have the CCTV on a table that is itself too high. The CCTV should be on a table top the height of which is slightly above your lap. Look into height-adjustable tables, or even a higher chair, so you can get the perfect alignment of your eyes to the screen. If you were to draw a line between your eyes and the screen, you would want your eyes lined up at least to the midway point on the screen, even higher. Once you are properly aligned, if you read at the bottom of the monitor, you are usually the most comfortable and your reading is the easiest. A great tip is to use the bottom of the monitor as a ruler line to help you keep your place. This should fix an achy neck.

Do you have any pointers to help me write using my CCTV?

Yes! Hand writing, even checks and mundane tasks, is one of Patty’s favorite pleasures on her CCTV! She loves seeing on the screen the placing of ink to the page and says she always thinks of her 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Dal Bello, at Peabody School in Santa Barbara! So here are her tips:

Get practice paper, with lines if possible, then:

  • Put the CCTV into its photo mode so things look realistic;
  • Take magnification to its lowest level to start out;
  • Use a pen with black ink (everyone finds “the perfect pen.” Patty likes the inking of roller ball pens for writing under the CCTV.)
  • Place pen under the CCTV camera, watch the screen, moving your hand until you see your finger tips and the pen tip on the screen;
  • Touch the pen to paper until you feel it touching. Keep watching the screen as you start to write. After ten minutes of practice writing a day, you will do this in no time, without even thinking about it.

I am stuck. I live alone and can’t read the phone book What can I do?

Of course, you can use a magnifier or your CCTV, but there is an easier way if you are legally blind, which many people are. The phone companies will provide legally blind individuals with free directory assistance on their home telephone line. This is easily arranged by calling the operator on your phone and asking to speak with the disability office. They will send you a simple form that will probably require your doctor’s signature. After taking care of that you can dial 411, or directory assistance, at no charge. You can also follow the prompts to have the phone company dial for you, at no charge except for any long distance charges that apply to the call.

I am missing telephone calls and struggling with my telephone answering machine. Do you have a solution?

Because of rave reviews from our customers, we can recommend the Jitterbug cell phone. You open this phone and it gives you a dial tone. There are easy buttons that light up when you touch them and also a large screen. Plus, you can carry it around your neck or in your pocket or scooter basket. Investigate it further online, even through Sears. Importantly, they have a features you sign up, as a low vision telephone user, to receive personal operator assistance to add contacts or even to make call.

My computer screen is so hard to see. What should I do?

There are a couple of approaches that address the issue of seeing your computer screen better. To begin with, if you do not have a reduced field of vision (like tunnel vision), buy a 22” up to 27” HD flat screen monitor. Know that most monitors have menus and buttons where you can adjust contrast and brightness, too. In addition, utilize the options in Windows to set larger icons and bigger font size defaults. And if you are not currently a touch typist, we strongly suggest you become one. We can help you locate inexpensive touch typing tutorials. Touch typing is not hard to learn, and it is essential, particularly as vision worsens. Many functions on the computer can be made with keystrokes, or “hot keys,” alleviating often frustrating “mouse” work.

If you are still struggling to see the computer screen, do not despair. Consider screen magnification software, like our favorite program, Supernova Magnifier and its cousin, Supernova Magnifier Reader. The latter offers clear, easily adjusted voice read back.

Think of Supernova Magnifier as a tool to make the computer easier to see by making print bigger or smaller at a moment’s notice, to present tools like pointers and arrows colored or shaped so you can see them easily. You gain the ability to adjust the screen presentation and coloration with the quickest of keystrokes. Supernova Magnifier now makes it easy to use two screens if you are working on spreadsheets or applications with multiple panes or windows. Patty has found screen magnification software invaluable for many years now. She guides many of our customers as they begin to use it. This relatively small investment helps you continue your computer work, free of stress, struggle, and disappointment.

What are low vision aids?

Low vision aids are simply tools to help you use existing vision to its maximum. Many are magnifying aids, both lenses and electronic magnifiers. Another popular low vision aid is a directional light, something anyone would benefit from. Full spectrum lights that you can direct to what you are trying to see are the best. They are widely available in craft and lighting stores. There are other tools that offer contrast, such as colored cutting boards, so a person can cut an onion on a dark board and thereby see it better. An all time favorite is a dark-lined pen, but one that doesn’t gag you with the smell or stain your clothes or bleed through the paper you’re writing on. Perhaps a sign of the times, PaperMate now makes the 20/20 low vision pen.

I want a magnifier that will read the whole page. Can you help?

Everyone would like a full page magnifier because it sounds so easy. However, the technology for magnification lenses requires curvature of the lens to do a proper job. A full page-reading lens would be too heavy to hold, too cumbersome to move around, and too expensive. We have recently seen a “fair” version of a 3X full-page, acrylic magnifier. However, it distorts the image. So far, no one has liked the distortion, so we do not stock it. A far more satisfying result can be obtained by learning proper use of a hand held magnifier and, most importantly, investigating an electronic, desk magnifier. The latter is your “right arm” for active reading, independence, and satisfaction over the long haul.

I want a big magnifier that is stronger. Why is this so hard to find?

This is because such a magnifier would be huge and not practical to hold or use. It would also be extremely expensive to produce. Magnification with a lens is achieved with the correct curvature to create an enlarged image. Electronic magnifiers have been around for over 50 years. They were engineered because of the physical difficulty of delivering strong magnification with lenses.

What is the best way to hold a magnifier?

This is an important question. Everyone’s eyes are different. Here is the way I teach magnifier use, and why doing this properly brings better results. The goal is to read and comprehend, as easily as possible, the material at hand. What I suggest is holding the magnifier up to your face. Touch the edge of the lens to your nose and anchor the magnifier that way. Rest your elbows against your torso or on a table. Then bring what you are reading up to the magnifier until you find focus. Adjust the distance between the object and the lens to find focus. The distance will be greater for low power magnifiers and smaller for strong ones.

Note also that lower power magnifiers are pretty forgiving. If you use a 3X magnifier you might get decent results when not holding the magnifier exactly as I suggest. With a 6X or stronger, however, it becomes important to hold the magnifiers right in front of your eye– the eye that has the better vision. If you are wearing anything but single vision distance glasses, you might try taking them off as an experiment here. (Generally, the more complicated your glasses, the more they get in the way of using magnification aids successfully.)

Resting the edge of the magnifier on your nose not only helps to keep the magnifier in position but also keeps your hand steady. As you move the paper or object you want to see closer and closer to the lens, the image will come into focus. The distance may be closer than you expect, but holding a magnifier this way becomes second nature with some practice.

When you bring the lens up close to your eye, you attain the widest magnified view of what you’re looking at– the widest field of vision. Holding a magnifier down on the paper a foot away, you will see only a speck of the potential vision of what is magnified. It feels a little awkward to everyone at first, but you will become accustomed to using magnifiers in this way. Don’t give up. When we learn to do things that work for us, we continue to enjoy things like doing a little newspaper reading at the coffee shop, newspaper folded like a subway passenger does.

By the way, if you are attempting to use a strong magnifier, say over 7x, the protocol we are suggesting is absolutely necessary. Focus through a 14x magnifier is right next to the lens, and the only way to get any field of view at all is if that lens is right next to your eye.

How come my magnifier shows the letters upside down?

Magnifiers are tools and as such need to be used correctly to be most effective. It sounds like you are holding the magnifier at the wrong distance from the paper and the wrong distance from your eye. Look further into this section to review how to hold a magnifier.

What do you suggest I do to counteract the glare of bright light?

Absolutely get help with low vision filtered glasses. There are some that you wear by themselves or ones that fit over your existing prescription glasses. Either type, if you shop carefully, will give you complete protection from UV damage while you are outside and will help control the glare that is making it hard for you to see. Inside, we recommend removing Halogen lamps and bright incandescent bulbs in your lamps and try full-spectrum florescent light fixtures and bulbs. Many people blinded by glare wear lens filtration indoors as well as outdoors. There is more information on this website about your options with filters for glare.